Hudson Conservatory of Ballet hosts in-person classes with precautions

Director says approach to protect dancers during COVID-19 pandemic is 'working very well'

Phil Keren
Kent Weeklies
Hudson Conservatory of Ballet staff instructor Antonio Morillo wears a mask in a private lesson with Maggie Crookston. The ballet studio is hosting classes with safety precautions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

HUDSON — The leader of a ballet studio said precautions they are taking to protect dancers and instructors during the COVID-19 pandemic are "working very well."

Sunita Joshi, executive director of Hudson Conservatory of Ballet, said once the schools closed due to the coronavirus, her organization suspended in-person classes on March 12. The group then moved their spring break up by a week, and spent that week off preparing to transition to online classes. Following the spring break week, Joshi said HCB hosted all of its classes in a virtual format and completed the 2019-20 season with a virtual recital. The students' costumes for the recital were hand-delivered by instructors and all students received end-of-class certificates.

"We did not miss any classes," said Joshi.

She said the studio on Hudson Drive reopened in June with a "modified schedule" of in-person classes and added more sessions to its docket in July.

"We kind of phased in adding age groups slowly as we worked through our different protocols and guidelines at the studio," said Joshi, who noted older students were returned to classes first.

Joshi said HCB began its 2020-21 season with a full slate of in-person classes this past week. Those classes will run through late May. She explained that HCB is part of More Than Just Great Dancing, a licensing program for dance studios which created requirements for the SaferStudio program. 

Hudson Conservatory of Ballet Executive Director Sunita Joshi is pictured outside the studio, where safety precautions have been implemented so that in-person classes can occur.

"We followed those guidelines, which included wellness checks for dancers and the staff," said Joshi. "Every time someone enters the building, their temperature is taken. We have enhanced cleaning procedures."

She noted parents have been "very receptive" to the protocols that have been implemented at the site.

"We are able to continue running in-person classes due to the spacing," said Joshi, who noted HCB is basing its guidelines on what other dance studios are doing. "We've been working together because there aren't a lot of state guidelines for that. We fall into the category of gyms, but that's a lot different than a children's activity."

The studio is allowed to continue offering in-person classes even if Summit County goes to Level 3 (or the red designation) in the state's COVID-19 color-coding system that measures the amount of exposure and spread of the virus. Summit County is currently at Level 2 (or orange).

Studios and waiting areas in the Hudson Conservatory of Ballet on Hudson Drive are color coded and spaced out.
The students wait in a lounge in chairs that are spaced apart before they enter their class at the Hudson Conservatory of Ballet.

COVID-19 protocols used by the studio

Each student will have their temperature checked by an employee before they enter the building. Students must keep their face covering on as they walk inside and when they congregate in the student lounge. In that area, there are chairs spread out and students will sit in their seats while they wait for the previous class to finish. After the students enter their classes, staff members will clean off the seats before the next group of young people enter the lounge.

Brooklyn Swain gets her temperature checked by Amanda Meder outside of the Hudson Conservatory of Ballet.

While instructors wear masks at all times, students are not required to have them on during class.

"Based on the order with the ages for children and the physical activity and the amount of space between them, they're not required [to wear a mask]," said Joshi. "They're obviously encouraged. We have several that do."

Students must have a mask with them when they are in the studio because there could be a situation where the instructor asks them to put it on. Older students who perform routines that cross the floor must put on a face covering for that exercise, according to Joshi.

These colorful work stations have been created in the studios of Hudson Conservatory of Ballet to help students maintain distance from one another during classes.

A spacing system is set up in the instructional areas. Joshi explained that each of the four studios have work stations that are marked with tape in the shape of a box on the floor. The center of one work station box marked with tape is about 7 and a half feet from the center of the next work station box. One student participates in each work station area.

In each of the four studios, Joshi said technology has been set up to allow for students to participate virtually with a class being conducted at the studio in real time. So far, Joshi said, there have been "only a few families" who want their children to participate exclusively through the virtual platform. If a child needed to isolate or quarantine at home, he or she could still take part in the class through the digital set-up. 

Hudson Conservatory of Ballet Executive Director Sunita Joshi and Member Experience Coordinator Shannon Shonk work on setting up a virtual class with a student.

Joshi said she and her staff have discussed the possibility of offering some classes online even after the COVID-19 pandemic ends.

"It'll be something that we'll probably offer," said Joshi. She noted camps or single-day sessions are examples of the types of programs that could be provided virtually. "If we can serve people in a different manner, we're all for that."

The distancing requirement means that instructors are unable to make physical contact with students to guide them on different movements. As a result, Joshi said instructors have to be "a lot more verbal with our corrections."

"We don't get close to the student," she said.

Joshi noted the tape on the floor marking the work stations is used to help some of the younger students maintain their spacing.

"Each side of the [taped] box is a different color," said Joshi. "They'll use that as a little combination with the preschoolers. [The teacher might say] 'we're going to march down the orange line and then hop across the blue line. They're kind of integrating it into the class, which has been really helpful for the younger ones to stay spaced apart."

For older students, Joshi said there is a greater focus on strengthening and stationary movements. 

Instructor Jennifer Lehaney works with the Kindergarten-1st grade jazz class at Hudson Conservatory of Ballet. Instructors are required to wear mask when they teach their class.

The maximum number of students allowed in a class is 30% lower than normal due to COVID-19, according to Joshi. It does mean that classes fill up more quickly. Currently, several of the classes are full and several others have waiting lists. Joshi noted she and her staff are trying to figure out how to provide some other shorter term classes.

She noted some additional offerings are "definitely going to be needed because we haven't lost much interest…we've been lucky."

Joshi said there's been a "decent amount of new people" taking part in classes in the 2020-21 season, and added she's spoken with families who are interested in starting in September once the school year is underway.

"We want to do everything we can to keep a normal activity in their life," added Joshi. "Obviously, [we] want to do everything to be safe, but they also need to have the friends and activity and the physical outlet. Whatever we can do to help the community in that way, we want to be able to serve them."

Reporter Phil Keren can be reached at pkeren@recordpub.com, or on Twitter at @keren_phil.